Freedom is a powerful word for most of us. Here in America people are always talking about freedom, living in a free country, defending freedom and maintaining our freedom. Some like to say – freedom isn’t free. In the course of daily life, most people like to think of themselves as free, that they have freedom of choice, at least to some extent. When people’s freedom is taken away, such as when going to prison or losing a cherished right and suffering results, there can be an impulse to fight to regain that freedom. Yet if we really take a close look at our lives both internally and externally, how much freedom do we actually have?
In my view the entire concept of freedom is a lie, a myth, a fantasy. This is not likely to be a popular point of view but just what is it that makes us think we are free? I would say on the surface two things fuel the illusion of freedom. One is the appearance of choice and the other is pleasure or getting what we want, doing what we want. On a deeper level the desire for freedom emerges from the belief that we are individual beings who are separate from the rest of the universe, an independent entity. It appears that such a being can either be constrained/bound or free to do as it wishes, and we certainly desire the latter. But what if this is only an appearance based on an incomplete understanding of ourselves and the universe?
Even if we take the usual way of looking at freedom as truth, at best we are only partially free. If freedom is just a concept, it is limited as all concepts are, but freedom at least implies absence of limitations. The limitations of our knowledge and experience, the actions of others, and the rules of society and the greater universe limit the degree of freedom an individual can experience. Even when it comes to the choices we appear to have, are they truly free choices?
Human beings are subject to intense, constant conditioning, and many, or even most, of our behaviors are habitual responses to our conditioning. A little self inquiry can quickly highlight this. The questions of what we choose and what we want in life are heavily influenced by what we have been conditioned to believe, and the limitation of what we think is possible. A choice is only as good as one’s ability to know the options available, yet most of us see a very limited set of options in any given situation. When we look at choices people make and the things they desire in life, which they successfully attain, very often these choices and accomplishments produce problems and suffering as they don’t turn out to be satisfying or what was expected. Even when they are satisfying, they are temporary, and satisfaction eventually gives way to dissatisfaction.
My intent here is not to paint some kind of dismal picture of human life, quite the contrary. It is to suggest that we take a close, honest and blunt look at what freedom is for each of us, whether we really have it and whether it is possible to be truly free. I would say that it most certainly is possible to be free, and I say this as someone who values this above all else. To be truly free we must see the limitations, we must illuminate what mascaras for freedom and how we deceive ourselves into accepting a very limited version of it.
We live in a universe where everything is intimately interconnected. There is no way to act as an independent entity exercising free individual choice when every action is part of a sea of interconnected elements. It is like considering whether a computer can make choices. It may appear to, based on how it responds to input, but its response can only be in the context of its programming. We are similar, except that we have two levels of programming: all the learned conditioning of this lifetime including that from parents, society and experiences; and the constraints of living in a physical body in a universe that appears to be governed by laws. You could say that everything we do is to some extent preordained.
To truly be free we must know who and what we are at the deepest level. Are we just biological/psychological computers, or are we something greater than that? Despite the limitations there is no doubt that human beings have a deep desire for freedom. It may be that this desire is actually a desire for our True Selves. It just may be that, at the deepest level, we are already Free, absolutely free. This isn’t the freedom we can conceptualize with the mind; how could it be? How could true freedom be so limited as to be grasped with the human mind, which is the very source of limitation?
What separates us from a computer is that we have the capability to be aware of our programming/conditioning and question it. Maybe the only thing that really binds us are our concepts and beliefs, and when those are seen clearly, seeing can expand to a level where it is unbound and limitless. How funny to look out at a world of limitations, which has freedom as its basis, hidden behind the most subtle of veils. Lift up the veil of concept/mind, and the reality behind the curtain is exposed, but beware, when you see through the veil, you see through yourself and there is no coming back from that!